(When) Is EI a female asset?
Our hypothesis concerning gender differences and assuming higher ability El in women (H2a) was not borne out by the present data, except in the youngest age group, in which female participants indeed performed better on the MSCEIT than males. Considering that we also found girls to outperform boys in a previous study involving Serbian high-school graduates (Altaras Dimitrijevic & Jolic Marjanovic, 2010), it seems that - at least in this cultural context - a female advantage on ability El is reliably present in adolescence and young adulthood but cannot be claimed to exist beyond that age. Given this constellation of results, one possibility would be to interpret them as a special instance of Lynn’s “developmental theory of gender differences in intelligence” (e.g., Lynn, Allik, & Irwing, 2004), according to which these differences are likely to wax and wane as a function of age, primarily due to the fact that girls mature earlier than boys. Specifically, when it comes to abstract reasoning on Raven’s Progressive Matrices, Lynn et al. (2004) have proposed that boys lag behind girls at younger ages yet catch up with and eventually outperform them by age 16, that is, at the point when fluid intelligence (Gf) is likely be fully developed. Presuming that females are also faster to develop their El-related skills, but that ability El generally takes longer to peak than abstract reasoning, we could also explain why gender differences in favor of women still appear on the MSCEIT in adolescence and young adulthood, but “vanish” by middle-age, that is, once ability El comes to full fruition. The same pattern of results is nevertheless susceptible to another interpretation, which again draws on the proposed El-awareness gap mentioned above: According to this account, the absence of significant gender differences in the elder groups would not so much reflect an equality of genders in their true levels of ability El, as equal non-familiarity with El of both men and women in these age cohorts. This would also imply that, when El-relevant experience is available, women might in fact be more apt to take advantage of it and achieve higher levels of ability El - commensurate with what has been established in countries which are more developed than Serbia and probably also more advanced in terms of general El awareness (e.g., Brackett & Mayer, 2003; Farrelly & Austin, 2007; Mayer et al., 2002; Palmer et al., 2005; Van Rooy et al., 2005). Such an interpretation would also agree with the fact that gender differences appeared only in the higher education group of our sample. Whichever may be the case, a clear implication of the present results - particularly when paired with those of Fernandez-Berrocal et al. (2012) - is that gender differences in ability El should henceforth be examined in relation to age.
As for trait El, our initial expectation was that men would exhibit higher levels of emotional self-efficacy, particularly in the domains of Self-Control and Sociability (H2b). This hypothesis was only partially confirmed, as our male participants - particularly those in the middle age-group - indeed scored higher on the above two TEIQue factors, yet not on global trait El. Although not fully consistent with our hypothesis, the present findings do resonate with Petrides’s (2009) observations of relatively small gender effects and “proximity of male and female scores at the global level,” but “considerable discrepancies” in some factors and facets (p. 17). The factor-level differences in favor of men which emerged in the present study are congruent with, and can be meaningfully interpreted as, an instance of the “male hubris, female humility effect,” which proposes that men are likely to overestimate, while women tend to underestimate their abilities and competencies, particularly in domains which are traditionally regarded as masculine (Furnham et al., 2001; Furnham & Storek, 2017). While the effect has hitherto been demonstrated in the realm of traditional academic abilities (i.e., mathematical/logical, spatial, and verbal), the present results suggest that it may also extend to abilities from the realm of El, in as much as these are perceived as masculine, which we assume to be the case with self-control and sociability.